Our 2018 Road Trip, Part 17: The Great Western Staircase

vertigo looking down...

Imagine a workplace where this is an everyday sight. And somehow this happened on government’s watch.

Presented tonight for your viewing pleasure are glimpses of my favorite part of our 2018 vacation: an ornate, creepy section inside the New York State Capitol that looks like the intersection of Hogwarts and Moria.

It's a staircase.

Climb this way to adventure if you dare. Or to your appointment here, whichever motivates you more.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year since 1999 my wife Anne and I have taken a trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. Normally we’ll choose one major locale as our primary objective, drive that-a-way, and concentrate on exploring the vicinity for a few days before retreating.

We crafted this year’s itinerary with a different approach. Instead of choosing one city as a hub, we focused on one of the motifs that’s recurred through several of our trips: grave sites of Presidents of the United States of America. Our 2018 road trip would effectively have the format and feel of a video game side quest — collecting nine American Presidents across ten presidencies, four states, seven days, and 2000 miles…


If only M.C. Escher had lived to see this and offer even more design suggestions.

At the northwest end of the Capitol is the Great Western Staircase, a.k.a. “the Million-Dollar Staircase”. At the end of the 19th century over 500 carvers took 14 years to create 444 steps reaching up to 119 feet at a cost of $1.5 million, which in today’s dollars is probably…more. Much, much more.

upward to partial skylight!

This could be a great place to hold hide-and-seek tournaments, if they don’t already.

Official credit is generally given to designer Henry Hobson Richardson, who also designed Albany City Hall across the street; architect Isaac G. Perry, whose other works throughout New York include several armories; and Louis J. Hinton, foreman overseeing all those sculptors. Together they and their teams realized a unique vision and delivered one of the most visually stunning physical features we’ve ever seen in or on a state capitol building. in my book it tops all those shiny capitol domes. Even the gold-leaf one in West Virginia.

balusters and balustrades!

If the big skylight were hinged, a New York superhero could make a great lair out of all this.

Far from the security checkpoint with no other humans in sight, Anne and I gallivanted up and down the stairs, inasmuch as one can gallivant after such a long day and after that uphill State Street slog, and merrily snapped pic after pic — she with her camera and I with my Galaxy S9, which some online reviews had complimented for its performance in low-light settings.

light fixture!

Despite all the vintage light fixtures, much of the Staircase was darker and spookier than these photos convey.

Amid all the arches and the columns and the pretty-pretty Fitbit steps are the carved faces of 77 different politicians, creators, and other famous personalities of varying size, significance, and New York relevance. Anne and I discovered a fraction of that. I would’ve loved a complete set, but closing time was nigh and we were exhausted and starving…albeit committed to exploring these magical stairs anyway.

George Washington!

Let’s just get George Washington out of the way up front.

Alexander Hamilton!

Renewing our commitment to never stop pandering to Alexander Hamilton fans.

Benjamin Franklin!

Benjamin Franklin watching from above but not quite from heaven.

Christopher Columbus!

Christopher Columbus even though his holiday is presently about as popular as Lose an Hour of Sleep to Daylight Savings Day.

Philip Schuyler!

Anyone who read the last few chapters will be thoroughly unsurprised to see Major General Philip Schuyler, Hamilton’s father-in-law and Albany’s favorite son,

Harriet Beecher Stowe!

Harriet Beecher Stowe isn’t the only woman on these walls (I understand Susan B. Anthony is around somewhere), but she’s the only one we saw because sometimes we’re terribly short-sighted.


This isn’t a bust, but anyone who knows my interests can imagine why a sign proclaiming “EXCELSIOR” would catch my attention.

Philip Sheridan!

Union General Philip Sheridan, the same Union leader astride the horse out front.

William Tecumseh Sherman!

Union General William Tecumseh Sherman, who left much of the South in smoke and ashes, then lived and died in New York City ever after.

John Greenleaf Whittier!

John Greenleaf Whittier — poet, abolitionist, and among the first writers published in The Atlantic when it launched in 1857.

John Jay!

Founding Father John Jay, second governor of New York and very first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

George Read!

George Read, Congressman from Delaware who signed the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, and the underrated Petition to the King of the Congress of 1774. Also, the best puffy shirt out of all these busts.

Roger Sherman!

Connecticut Congressman Roger Sherman, the only person to sign the Continental Association, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the U.S. Constitution. He’s the 18th-century equivalent of an EGOT winner.

Roscoe Conkling...

Scariest Stair Head, runner-up: Roscoe Conkling, US Senator and US Congressman from New York. Generally brought up today in only unflattering contexts involving political machines.

Daniel Webster!

Scariest Stair Head: Massachusetts’ Daniel Webster — renowned attorney, Secretary of State under three different Presidents, and costar of the award-winning 1936 short story “The Devil and Daniel Webster” that influenced an entire generation of soul-selling horror tales.

Eventually we put away our devices, exited the Capitol a few minutes before closing time, and desperately searched the surrounding area for an open restaurant…

To be continued!

* * * * *

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email sign-up for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my TV live-tweeting and other signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

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